Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter and the Installation of Fr. Will Schmid as pastor of San Francisco de Asis, Flagstaff.
May 6, 2018
Jesus says, “I call you friends.” – John 15:15
“Whoever finds a friend finds a treasure,” says God in the Book of Proverbs. And the greatest friendship we can have is with Jesus. You and I can be friends of the Lord because He greatly desires it.
We are tempted to think that friendship with Him is our choice. But the truth is, as Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). Long before we chose to love Jesus, He chose to lay down His life for our Redemption.
The fact is that much of our life is beyond our choosing. We do not choose our sorrows, our gifts of mind and body, our abilities or disabilities, our family situations. Parents do not choose their children; children do not choose their parents — they receive them as gifts of God. Parishioners do not choose their pastor, and the pastor does not choose his flock.
Of course, we are not passive spectators in life. We have freedom to accept or reject whomever the Lord gives us to love. And we would not have any good friends without choosing to make a gift of ourselves to them in love and to make choices for their good. A friend is far more a gift of God than an achievement of ours.
Jesus frequently spoke about love, but He rarely spoke about friendship. However, at the Last Supper, just before giving us the gift of His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist and before dying to redeem us on the Cross, Jesus said, “I no longer call you slaves, …I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).
Why did Jesus so rarely speak about friendship? And why, at the Last Supper, did He call the Apostles “friends” while at the same time saying, “I no longer call you slaves”? Can you think of any time that Jesus called His disciples “slaves”? Why does He say this?
It is helpful to know that the Sacred Scriptures, as a whole, very rarely speak about friendship. And when they do, which is almost exclusively in the so-called “Wisdom books” of the Old Testament, especially Proverbs, what they teach are the many deceptions of false friends, and the difficulties of deciding whose friendship can be trusted. When Jesus, then, decided to address the topic of friendship, it was during the Last Supper, just after being betrayed by Judas Iscariot, and while He was instituting the Eucharist, the total gift of Himself which He offered at the Last Supper and which He then brought to fulfillment the next day on the Cross. He told the Apostles, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the friendship above all others. This helps us to understand why the Eucharist is the greatest treasure of the Church, and why receiving Christ in Holy Communion is the greatest of all blessings. Jesus is offering the gift of Himself, the gift of intimate friendship with Him.
But why does Jesus say, “I no longer call you slaves?” when we find no place in the Bible where Jesus did call the Apostles slaves? Well, quite simply because of the total transformation that Jesus was bringing about for the whole human family through the total gift of Himself on the Cross. Until Jesus gave His life for us in the Eucharist and on the Cross, we were not redeemed, we were not released from the slavery of sin. The chains of iniquity were not broken and the gates of hell were not destroyed until Jesus laid down His life for us. Not only the Apostles could rightly be called “slaves” before the Passion of Christ, every human being could rightly be called so. What a great blessing that Jesus is able, and greatly desires, to call us not slaves but His friends. And what a blessing that He keeps, through His mercy, freeing us from the bondage of sin, breaking the chains of our addictions and the bad habits that enslave our souls. Jesus came to set captives free, so that they could become His friends. This is the heart of the Good News of Christ.
Pope Saint John Paul II wrote of this wondrous mystery: “Man cannot live without love. He remains…incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience love and make it his own… This is why Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself” (Red. Hominis, 10).
There are three primary roles by which a good pastor serves those entrusted to his care: as a loving father, a gentle shepherd, and a wise teacher. Notice that a pastor’s service is not described in terms of friendship with those whom he serves. There can be no doubt that the Lord Jesus wishes every priest to receive and rejoice in His friendship. To the degree that a priest receives Jesus’ gift of friendship and lets it permeate his whole life, he will be, as St. Francis describes, “an instrument of Christ’s peace.” A faithful pastor also desires that each member of his parish come to know and rejoice in friendship with Christ. He does this by being a loving father, a gentle shepherd, and a wise teacher. Just as parents are not called to be “friends” of their children, but mother and father to them — teaching them and guiding them, being ready to correct and discipline when needed. Parents, like every good pastor, love their children by following the example of St. John the Baptist, who described his mission in this way, “He (i.e. Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.” What we pray and long for is that our children and all whom God gives us to love will come to know above all the friendship of Christ and the blessing of being beloved sons and daughters of God our Father.
The fundamental truth we learn from Jesus is that God is love, a Trinity of Persons united in life and love, full of tenderness and mercy, always gentle and full of compassion.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Whomever you would change you must love; and they must know that you love them.”
A good pastor demonstrates his love for his people by being a loving father, a gentle shepherd, and a wise teacher.